What your logo does — and doesn't — need to do

What does my logo actually do for my business?

You may have heard some of these answers before…

  • Represent your brand to your customers
  • Leave a memorable impression
  • Create consistency in appearance throughout your communications and marketing
  • Speak to your target audience
  • Relate to your industry, product or service
  • Should be unique, memorable and timeless

All these answers and more can be given to describe the purpose of your logo. Seems like a tall order, and it is! How do you pack all of this into one little mark small enough to fit on a business card?

For many people, their first response is just that… to pack it all in. They expect their logo to account for every facet of their services or a complete picture of their product. With this long list of expectations for a successful logo in mind, they may forget that a logo is meant to capture essence, and begin to expect a logo that captures accurate realism. Following this line of strategy, the logo would amount to a detailed illustration of their real-life business.

An example of this approach to logo design happened to me a few years ago. The client I was working with wanted to pursue a logo concept with abstract, icon-like illustrations of two different types of people, facing each other to create another shape in the white space. (Inspired by those optical illusions where you can see the shape of a vase between two faces.) 

My client was excited about the concept, but continually requested more and more detail be added to the people. This went on until I had added face paint, hair accessories, and even the texture of facial hair to what had originally been simplified, abstract icons. Eventually the logo grew so detailed that it was difficult to notice the easter egg shape in the white space, and the details were so small that they wouldn’t even have shown at a business card size.

Now, why was this a problem? Isn’t a logo supposed to represent the business? Doesn’t that mean making it accurate to what those people actually look like? Here’s why not.

Because this business used photographs — real life, full-color, up-close photographs — of these two types of people everywhere.

Photographs on their website. Photographs all over their social media. Photographs on every single brochure, poster, information packet, you name it.

This vivid, true-to-life, personal photography of these two people was a central piece of this business’s brand.

So where was the disconnect in this story? It’s this: my client felt that the logo had to do ALL of the work that the photographs were already doing. They thought that for their logo to be memorable, representative of their business, and unique, it had to communicate everything that all of these photographs did.

You know what? That wasn’t my client’s fault! Many people carry this misconception into their branding project. It’s a designer’s job not only to make sure that the logo accomplishes what it should, but also to make sure that the client understands why and how.

Are you exploring the idea of a new logo for your business? Here’s your takeaway from this story.

Your logo does do a lot to represent your business, but it doesn’t do it alone. 

When is the last time that someone handed you a brochure, you opened it up, and it was blank on the inside — all white, except for the logo printed right in the middle? Never, right? That’s because a logo is just the tip of the iceberg of your whole brand. It’s the starting point, it’s the main icon, but it’s not the whole picture. It captures the essence of your business, but it doesn’t need to include every aspect and every detail about what you do.

When the day comes that you are ready for your new logo, remember that the list at the top of this article isn’t a burden that is borne by your logo alone! A logo’s backup — actually, a logo’s partner — is the whole brand. Everything that goes with your brand — your photography, your designed marketing materials, your well-written website, your attractive storefront signage, and on and on — are working to accomplish these tasks too.

So, don’t expect your logo to go it alone. Remember that your logo may be simple, and still accomplish all that it needs to as the figurehead of a fleshed-out, thoroughly designed brand.

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